In a shadowy corner of the campus, long after teaching hours were over, a man stood, cloaked in darkness. The gentle burning of a cigarette was the only source of light. He breathed out a wave of smoke and flicked the cigarette away, treading the smouldering ash into the ground. Soft footsteps approached, crunching the gravel underfoot. The man sniffed in the chilled night air and spat out some phlegm while bending down. He handed over a plastic bag filled with containers of small green pills.
“Make sure they all get it,” a strong, rumbling voice said.
“Y-yes sir,” a trembling whisper replied.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” the man growled. Without saying a word the other turned away, the bag hanging by their side. Unseen in the gloom, the man wore a wicked smile, his black heart darker than the night sky.
“We can do this,” Peter said, practically pushing Emma through the hall.
“But there are so many…so noisy…all in one place.”
‘He could do better.’
‘She could do better.’
‘All I want is for him to smile.’
‘When I was young I used to say live and let live.’
‘Ash will die.’ She quickly looked at Peter, who realised too late that she had read his last thought. Neither of them said anything about it. They took a seat in the corner. Emma huddled up to Peter, her dark soulful eyes directed away from the crowds ahead.
“There’s too many, I can’t make any sense.”
“Just try and focus on mine, then branch out from there.” He smiled at her and she nodded, looking relieved. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and she concentrated on Peter’s thoughts. She saw the fight in the bar and experienced the feeling of power and superiority Peter felt. She felt the heat from the blazing building, and the desperate sorrow as Felicio wasn’t able to save the children’s mother. She went all the way back to the beginning and experienced a fraction of the pain Peter felt as his soul was split open and the power was bestowed upon him. Emma got a sense of the burden he carried, and her heart went out to him. Yet the one thing she didn’t sense which she so desperately wanted to was love for her. There was a great deal of affection, but it was more the kind that a brother has for a sister, a protective feeling rather than a passionate one. He was the only one, apart from Katrina, who could understand what she was going through. He was the only one who had reached out to help her, but he didn’t love her. Saddened, she turned her mind away from him and tried to reach out for the others. It took a lot of concentration but she managed to let the thoughts drip into her mind. After a few moments she turned to Peter.
“They’re all so frightened,” she said, her eyes wet with tears. Peter clenched his jaw. He knew how hard it must have been for her to be aware of so much pain and fear and not have the ability to help, but there was nothing he could do, and he had a mission.
“Is there anything about drugs?”
She nodded, and wiped her eyes. “Him,” she said, gesturing to a boy sat on the edge of one of the ‘normal tables’. The boy she was gesturing to had an aloof demeanour, and looked distant, as if he wasn’t interested in anything any of his friends had to say. He had cropped blonde hair and a shining stud in his ear. His eyebrows were arched downward as if in a permanent scowl. Without the security of his costume Peter was nervous, but he made his way across the cloister where he leaned down and spoke in a low voice.
“I hear you can get the stuff,” he said, unsure whether his tactic would work. The boy looked at him, “not here,” he said and got up, leading Peter around the corner to a more secluded area. Emma craned her neck but lost sight of them as they left, and without Peter’s reassuring presence the thoughts of others swarmed at her mind like a pack of rabid vultures.
“How did you find out?” the boy said.
“A friend told me about it, I’m Peter.” The boy shrugged. He pulled out a scrap of paper and, after scrawling an address, handed the crumpled shred to Peter.
“Come here tonight and we’ll sort you out, we’re having a party so bring a friend” he said, promptly walking off to rejoin his friends. Peter looked at the address, he knew the road but he had no idea who actually lived there, or what lay in store for him. Still, he looked pleased when he went back to Emma, but he instantly became concerned when he saw that she wasn’t there. Using his enhanced sense of smell he tracked her scent through the college to the edge of the grounds where she stood alone, an isolated figure in the soft mist. She looked so lost and forlorn, for a moment Peter pitied her but then she turned around, and he pushed the thought away, hoping but doubting that he was quick enough.
“Are you okay?”
“I am now,” she smiled weakly. Peter didn’t need to read minds to know that she was lying. “Did you get what you wanted?”
“Yes I did,” he said, waving the piece of paper in the air, “thank you so much for your help, I know it was difficult for you. Apparently it’s a party, would you like to come?” Her face suddenly lit up, and was just as suddenly engulfed in shadows. There was nothing she would have liked more than to accept his invitation but she knew she would only embarrass herself. She felt the pity he had for her and it was a terrible feeling. She didn’t want to be pitied, but there was no worse thought for her than to be at a party surrounded by strangers because she would quickly learn their most intimate secrets and she was tired of having such a raw vision of the world. She longed for an illusion, a little bit of mystery, but the truth relentlessly hounded her. She declined Peter’s invitation and turned his back on him, he let her disappear into the mist.
While walking home he called Stephanie and invited her to join him. She readily agreed, always eager for a chance to socialise. Peter chose his outfit carefully, making sure that his costume couldn’t be seen under his clothes. He stuffed his mask and gloves into his pockets and met Stephanie.
“Wow, you look great,” he exclaimed. She’d made a real effort; her usually straight hair was now wavy and red lipstick gave her face a burst of colour. The light of the streetlamps hit her just as the way moonlight shines on a crystal lake, and it was a sight Peter wasn’t prepared for at all.
“Of course I do, it is our first date, right?” Peter became flustered and tried to stammer out words, but before he could force a reply she walked on ahead, tilted her head back and laughed, “I’m only teasing you Pete, come on.”
He felt foolish and hurried to catch up with her. He wasn’t sure what was waiting for him, and part of him was scared that he’d be putting Stephanie in danger but he vowed that he would do everything to protect her. Occasionally he’d draw his fingers into his sleeve, just to feel his costume, and each time he did so he gave a small sigh of relief.
“So am I going to be your sidekick for the evening?” she asked.
“I thought you didn’t want to be a sidekick?”
“That was before you started becoming a bit famous.”
“Hmm, well, you’d need a costume and a name, but I really think I’m more the lone wolf type, forging my own path,” he said, raising his arm and pointing his fingers to an indeterminate point in the distance.
“You’re so dramatic sometimes.”
“It’s a serious business you know.”
“This is a party remember, loosen up.”
Eventually they reached the house. It was set towards the back of a cul-de-sac and the surrounding area was completely at peace. The fine mist had yet to life and it cast an eerie scene. Despite her cheery exuberance, Stephanie couldn’t get rid of a feeling of trepidation, but she knew as long as she stayed close to Peter she would be safe. He knocked on the door and as he waited his claws popped out and he absent-mindedly tapped against the wall, mindlessly scraping the bricks as he did so.
“Do you have to do that?” she said, annoyed. Before he could apologise the door opened. A scruffy looking man appeared, he must have been a few years older than him. Patches of stubble sprouted over his face and neck, and when he smiled a gold tooth glinted. He loosely held a bottle of beer and held the door open for the two of them, making no secret of his desire for Stephanie. Despite outward appearances the house was a dirty hovel. The whole place was crowded with people of various ages. A rusty bicycle leaned against the stairs, and people with tousled hair walked down those stairs, a descent of shame. Stephanie gripped Peter’s hand, and he squeezed back. Most of the lights were turned off. A muted television provided most of the illumination. Peter stifled a cough, the dirty smells were magnified for him and it made bile rise in his throat.
They brushed past people and made their way into the lounge. Others were reclined on the chairs, so they found a corner of the sofa and perched carefully on the edge, unsure of how to proceed. Everyone already seemed to be in their own cliques and Peter couldn’t see the blonde boy anywhere. Loud laughter came from what Peter assumed was the kitchen and then thunderous music burst forth through the house. Cheers rang out and dancing began, and the whole thing seemed like a blur. Once again Peter’s claws were out and they were digging into the arm of the chair. Stephanie nudged him and he instantly withdrew them. Then three men approached.
One was the man who had greeted them at the door, the other was the blonde boy and they were flanking a portly man with an arrogant smile. His hair was shaved almost to the scalp and ostentatious gold rings sat on each chubby finger. It was difficult for Stephanie to tell in the darkness, but Peter saw that his teeth and nails had an ugly yellow tinge. He was a despicable man by any standards, and yet he had an aura that suggested he was completely in control of his own world and anything he wanted he got. He studied Peter and Stephanie for a moment, analysing them in an inscrutable way. Eventually he held out his palm and the man with the gold tooth dropped two small green pills in his hand. He placed them in Stephanie and Peter’s hands, closing their hands as if they were holding a precious treasure. As he leaned in to speak his alcohol stained-breath made Peter wince.
“Enjoy your new education,” he said, each word deliberate and laced with a seductive charge which left Peter feeling unsettled. The pills felt large in their hand, and an uneasiness spread over them as the three men watched on. The two friends looked at each other with pleading eyes, both silently asking the other, ‘what now?’
Chapter 10 – Weakness and Strength